There is never enough time to do everything you want to, see everything you want to, and say everything you want to in life.
Therefore when an opportunity presents itself, you jump at it. This past week, I have spent with my family staying in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, the UK’s largest national park and done my best to jump at every opportunity to do something different from the usual day-to-day life I lead.
You know those seemingly imaginary holidays you occasionally hear of people winning on the radio or TV? Well they do actually happen, through a stroke of good luck my father won a competition through Radio Clyde that was being organised through RockSolid PR company and the good folks at The Cairngorms National Park, whom I must thank for making this last week a truly incredible and thoroughly enjoyable experience.
We were put up in The Garth Hotel, situated in peaceful Grantown-On-Spey, for the week, a warm and friendly place with a unique vibe about the place, with friendly staff that made the stay all the more enjoyable. The traditional lounge with the wood fire proved to be the family’s focal point to relax and read books in the evening’s throughout the week after the days activities.
A whole week of activities had been laid on for us, mainly situated around Aviemore and Rothiemurchus Forrest, a massive expanse of natural wonders with activities for all ages to enjoy.
Before this week I could probably count myself amongst a large number of people who could say, “Yes sure, I’ve heard of Aviemore” … I could probably even tell you where it is on a map … and yet, “looks amazing, but I’ve not made it there yet”.
It’s funny because the past week has really driven home to me, the fact that we have so many amazing undiscovered wonders here in Scotland, just take the west coast isles for example, yet there is always a much stronger pull to more exotic foreign lands. I understand this, and I too enjoy a good dollop of yearly sun and fun, and contrary to my usual ‘not playing it safe’ approach to life I try to stick to, I actually go to the same places I’ve known for years and simply because I like them and why go somewhere else if you’ve got somewhere you know and like?
Well I’m glad I did this week, got myself out of that so easy to fall into ‘comfort box’, and discovered an entirely wonderful place, discovering some new skills and talents along the way.
Monday was a thrilling and exhilarating day, our first Quad biking Trek, with the very informative and fun Emma at Rothiemurchus Adventure Centre proved to be tremendous fun and we didn’t want it to finish!
That great adventure was swiftly followed by a great afternoon, getting to grips with some shotguns and sharpening our eyes for Clay Pigeon Shooting – a very enjoyable sport which I managed to pick up fairly quickly, and found to be very rewarding when I got it right.
The following day we took the short drive to The Highland Wildlife Park, a large safari with all sorts of animals and activities to get stuck into and learn about. We enjoyed the sights of the rare and beautiful Amur Tiger’s, of which there are estimated to be only 450 left in the wild, Bukhara Deer and Japanese Macaque amongst many other fascinating animals. It was wolf awareness week and we enjoyed an amusing puppet show taking away some funny stories and useful information we previously didn’t posses.
The rest of the afternoon was spent at the Spa in the MacDonald Four Seasons Resort. Sadly this wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, with an overcrowded pool, dysfunctional hot tub and sauna, the steam room was the only thing really warm and working, which was a bit of a let down and put me off going for some pampering treatments I had intended upon having. Don’t let this put you off the resort though as the shops, hotel, golf course, restaurant and cinema are all well worth the Four Seasons Group tag they belong to.
By midweek we where well and truly beginning to feel like country bumpkin’s with our Wellington boots and cap’s being made good use of. It was on with the winter gear and off to the UK’s highest railway, The Cairngorm Funicular Railway.
The short 8 minute ride to the visitor centre and cafe went by pretty fast and snow started to close in on us as we neared the top. At the top there is a very well presented and informative museum and the restaurant, Ptmargin, is the highest restaurant in the UK at 1,097m above sea level. Disappointingly you can not exit the visitor centre on to the mountain, to continue on up the clearly marked pathway to the summit unless you are on a paid guided walk.
The centre work hard at conservation efforts on the mountain, and they use this line that by having fewer people on the mountain it reduces waste and impact on the environment. It is a valid point, but there was some amount of controversy created when the centre first opened over this very issue, it really is a bad idea that ought to be changed considering the money people pay just to reach the restaurant, which in itself must go far in furthering conservation needs.
Nonetheless, we enjoyed our time and got some good snaps from the viewing terrace, enjoying the first snow of the year!
Lunch at Rothiemurchus’s very own cafe was incredible, they really know how to whip up a good meal for you there and the friendly and personable staff are testament to the positive working ethos of the entire centre as a whole.
After our morning feeling like adventurers, we where more than happy to sit down and enjoy a throw back in time, with a round journey on the magical Strathspey Steam Railway.
Run by a group of passionate volunteers, the railway continues to be one of the biggest draws in the area for tourists and locals alike. It’s such a nice feeling to be on board a real treasure of the past and feel like you’re right back there in the golden age of steam!
My sister joined us the same afternoon and our boys holiday was no longer a boys holiday. We went back to the MacDonald Hotel to their pretty impressive 650 seat Cinema, to see Taken 2 which was amazing and we loved it!
The following day we made our way over to Landmark Park, an outside activity centre, this time wrapped up for a cold and rainy day. Now this really was a good old treat for us, tree top trails, roller-coasters, a “Tarzan Trail’ (yes climbing through the tree’s like Tarzan, except attached to safe secure ropes!) and skydiving – the scariest and most exhilarating point of the week. We really had a great amount of fun in this park, you could spend a whole day here with your friends, kids, parents, it’s a place for people of all ages and abilities to enjoy and we really loved it!
We topped the day off with a walk around the peaceful and idyllic Loch An Eilein – voted the UK’s best picnic spot. With its stunning 13th century castle on a remote island, and incredible views around the loch, forests and mountains surrounding the spot, it truly is a special place I’m glad we discovered – this is one place I will most definitely come back to, there’s just that special something about the place.
There is a wide range of restaurants for all tastes and budgets, around Aviemore and situated throughout the national park, something for everyone, I’m not going to go into a list of places I’d recommend as this is something best discovered for yourself, should you go!
Overall, a very enjoyable week that has well and truly established Aviemore and The Cairngorms National Park on my family’s radar, we hope to return in february for a long weekend skiing and snowboarding on the slopes, and hopefully you too will be inspired to go and discover this wonderful place.